18 October 2009

Save the Fashion District

New York Elegant Fabrics

Hertling - Made in NYC

Garment District?

I do have a thing about "Made in the USA." I'm not crazy about Thom Browne's fashion sense but his quality is beyond question . I've been told my Thom Browne shirt was not only made in the USA but made in NYC. There's been a push to have labels reflect New York origins. It can't come fast enough.

The HBO film, Schmatta, Yiddish for rags, airs tomorrow night and reports that today 5% of American clothing is made in the United States. In 1965, 95% of American clothing was made in the US. The motivation for this statistic is greed. A 100% mark up, once thought outrageous by Leon L. Bean, who kept the lid on his profit at 37 1/2% -- is now chump change. A shirt purchased at retail for $60 cost $1 or less to manufacture in Macao, Hong Kong, China or Honduras. Look, I'm not naive. I get over head and operating costs. Hell, I even understand EBITDA. But these numbers are obscene...not to mention those profiting from them.

One vulture begets another - - The real estate owners in the Garment District want the rent protected fashion tenant o -u -t. So does the mayor. You know, that guy Bloomberg who wants to protect city jobs? True to a politician's nature - - he's worked out a compromise. I learned in Chicago that political 'compromise' means, "Bend Over Here It Comes Again" or BOHICA which is a phrase I learned in the Army. Big institutions have always contributed colorful phrases to my vocabulary.

So, Mayor Bloomberg's compromise is to give the Garment District 280,000 square feet of consolidated warehouse space...for 250 apparel factories. Not a lot of room to sew much less grow. In the mean time, the real estate owners in that nine block area defined as 34th to 40th streets between Broadway and 9th Avenue, will be free to lock and load with as many Starbucks, Red Lobsters, CVS drug stores and Walgreen's as they like, all while madly humping the very industry that helps to make this city the fashion center it is. It won't be long before living in NYC will be no different than living in Des Moines. Except Des Moines will have a lot more diversity.

Many in the industry see this consolidation as laying the corpse in the coffin. They believe it won't take long before the lid on that coffin is nailed shut and the garment industry in NYC is buried. Designer, Nanette Lepore has called for some big names in the industry to take a stand. So far, Ralph Lauren has ignored her calls along with the other usual suspects. The mayor has refused her request for sit time for over a year. I see the guy on the subway all the time. He's hard to miss with the 12 man security entourage. Can't he meet Nanette on the Lex line for five lousy minutes?

There will be a rally this Wednesday the 21st at 39th St and 7th Avenue to save the Fashion District. No one seems to know when it starts and I can't find a time anywhere. I guess that's what happens with creative types. You can bet your trim and buttons I'll be there. I'm not in the business but 10 years ago I had a client who was a shirt manufacturer in North Carolina and another client who manufactured children's clothing in Georgia. They're gone now and I wonder how many of their service providers like me went with them.

You may not be able to make the rally but you can always shop for a Made in the USA label. You might even save your own job. As they say in the Schmatta trade, "It couldn't hurt."


Clinton said...

I stopped by Elegant Fabrics while I was in NYC over the summer. That store was about enough to make this amateur sewer from the midwestern wasteland wet himself in excitement. Beat the piss out of JoAnn's and their bolts upon bolts of poly/cotton granny prints.

Anyway, enjoy the rally for me.

heavy tweed jacket said...

Wish I could join you. From my vantage point it always amazes me how appealing a 'Made in USA' label is to many people outside the USA, but the value of that label seems to have become trivial to many in the USA. If that is the case, then the economy seems unimportant, the future uncertain, and a national identity largely forgotten. Great post.

EsseQuamVideri said...

Wow great post! I wish I was in NYC to be there.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting it. Good luck at the rally. You do a real service to the country and the consumer who cares about buying American. On another note, I recently purchased a pair of Bass Weejuns on ebay for forty seven dollars and change. I haven't received them yet, but I received an answer from the seller to my question about where they were made that they were, in fact, made here. He couldn't, however, tell me when they were made. Are these shoes truly made here and was that a decent price for used penny loafers from Bass? Thank you in advance for your response.

Ryan said...

Great post, as usual. I grew up outside of NYC and have watched friends and family move their residences and businesses away from the city for years. I guess I've given up on the New York garment district like those I know who grew up in it. But what I wish I would see is some company with some sense of pride or responsibility or vision make good use of the vast manufacturing wasteland that is North Jersey and North Philly. The factories, warehouses and a workforce desperate for some pay and dignity is all there.

ryan c

M.Lane said...

I was with you in spirit anyhow. Great post.


Giuseppe said...

Stuff like this always hits me hard. My father's father and my mother's mother both bought houses, fed the kids and sent them through college making clothes in the factories of Boston's old garment district...a part of the city which had basically become a wastland of strip clubs and porno shops by the eighties. When my parents were kids, everything they had was made in the U.S.A., unless it was a Christmas gift sent by the relatives in "the old country".

Personally, I'm a thrift store junkie, but I still hunt for clothing made in the U.S.A., because I know that even second hand I'm buying things of hard wearing quality and style.

We need to start making stuff again, and not just high ticket fashion stuff that only the millionaires can afford. An ecconomy that doesn't actually produce any goods can only last for so long, as I think we're finally finding out these last few years.

Anonymous said...

I'd buy more Made In America clothes if I could afford them. The union label often comes with the union price tag.

Paul said...

Wonderful post! Perhaps the New York times could pick it on Tuesday for support of the district on Wednesday.

tintin said...

Clinton- NY Elegant is an amazing place. Probably the best organized in my opinion. I don't sew but find these places fascinating for the array of "stuff" they carry. I found the perfect hunter green velvet for the collar of my covert coat. I just have to have it sewn on but can't make up my mind.

HTJ- Again, you've put into just a few words the soul of the situation. I can see a National Park Ranger taking tourists around a factory 20 years from now. "They actually made clothes in this room folks. Some of them were even hand sewn."

EQV- Just look for the tag.

anon 22:14- Yes, they did make Weejuns in the US. Don't know when they stopped. Assume it was probably in the late 80's or early 90's. There are Weejun cognoscenti everywhere on the net. Google, "Made in USA Weejun" and you'll get the scoop. Congrats on a great deal. I stumbled on a pair of new, old stock Seabago tassels made in the US for $30 a year ago and cherish them.

Ryan- That's a great idea. Cheap real estate, close to major cities and transporation. But all too often a city like Philadelphia will put huge $ into something like a ball park while ignoring any investment in start up business. Then they scratch their heads and wonder why all the grads from Wharton leave.

M Lane- Good to know.

Giussepe- You're in the company of some of the best designers out there. I don't think it takes much to understand why so many designers are thrift shoppers.

Anon 01:19- They're still some Made in US bargains out there. I think the Brooks button down oxford, the traditional model you have to iron, is one of the best values out there. Especially when they're marked down 30% for three. US made Berle khakis are $50.

Your comment prompts the idea of affordable apparel made in the US. I know Michael Williams at A Continous Lean has done a lot of research into this and not just the expensive stuff. Check his blog out for US Made.

Southwick, Brooks, J Press, Andover, Eljos, etc. They all focus on US made. But poke around Filenes, Marshalls, Off 5th Saks outlets, etc and look for US made instead of a brand. You'll find a lot of quality for not much $ at all.

Anonymous said...

Bloomberg kicked the 7th reg. out of there armory. do you expect him to spare mere garment makers?

Bloomberg has been about one thing - redistributing property and wealthy to his friends and taking it away from what remains of the middle and upper middle class in the city.

tintin said...

Anon 01:19- Here's the ACL list of US manufacturers.


Anon 09:25 It seems to be popular sport among many pols nowadays. And we re-elect them because the trains run on time.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately manufacturing in the New York has moved on and so has the quality of a lot of our off the rack clothing. Real Estate and labor costs are the two driving forces for the departure. You seem to be suggesting that real estate owners should be forced to lower their rental rates artificially to keep manufacturing going in NYC; would you also argue that employees should make less to keep it going?

ZZ said...

If you really want to protect domestic producers, then you ought to favor protecting them via tariffs on imports of foreign goods. Trouble is, that's what was done in the 1930's with disastrous result. The best way to get what you want is via a cheaper dollar. Oddly enough, you're getting it right now. More of that and you'll get a lot more US-made clothes.

tintin said...

Anon 10:17 A couple years ago I had a interesting conversation with a manufacturer who told me that not only was labor and real estate killing him but he couldn't even find the talent anymore. Hence, he was forced to go to Eastern Europe. I asked if his real estate and labor costs came down. He told me they did. A lot. I asked him why his prices didn't come down as well. He ended the conversation.

This isn't about a fair profit anymore. This is about companies hitting home runs with cheap product and most consumers ignorant of the game.

Anonymous said...

Assume you'll be wearing all "Made in USA" garb to your rally. In fact, start that day and see how many days straight you can go without wearing -- or buying -- anything that's not made in the US. Join the folks who are really serious about this cause, who consume only domestic-made goods. Start slowly, with a China-free diet. Then progress to eschewing Canadian beers, Italian cheeses, German cars, English outerwear, French silks, Japanese electronics, Persian rugs...It could be as painful -- and atention getting -- as a hunger strike. Document it right here! Share tips on how to pair Virginia wines (drunk from Simon Pearce glassware)with Vermont cheeses (served on Bybee pottery). Support American manufacturers by "rallying" at the cash register.
How 'bout it???

Anonymous said...

Extremely well put as usual.
I enjoy the historical background you give to the clothing and topics you cover. Always making me wish I had been part of a sentimentalized era long ago past...I'm around your age, a look back on the 60's, 70's, 80's etc. is a waste land in so many respects...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the list. (I'm anon 01:19.)

I do have at least a few made in America items according to the list. I have many Made in America Brooks oxford shirts, and some of the polos before they were moved overseas. Then there's the LL Bean tote bags and Leather Man belts via J. Press.

ADG said...

Superb post. It's too late for the Garment Disrict. It's all over my man. The Garment Disrict is kinda like the Canary in the mine of the USA's current level of appetite for domestically made goods. People don't give a shit anymore.

tintin said...

anon 11:17 -
I already did that. For four years. I only wore US made clothing and only ate US food from a chow hall, a C ration box and a LRP bag.

An industry abandoned it's own people. Tommy, Ralph, Donna, they all shit canned your relatives and neighbors and they expect you to pay $295 for a shirt made in Vietnam.

Or, I can pay 20% more to support a shirt manuf in Ohio or NC. That's something I can live with. But I'm not going back to LRPs and C's.

Anon 12:01 - I sometimes think I could write a book about the nostalgia I have for experiences I was born too late for.

Anon 12:52- No prob. Michael needs to update that list with a couple recent discoveries but it's a great place to start.

ADD- If it goes the way you say --you're only gonna be able to get your pants here:


I checked. There even your size.
It ain't over until it's over. You should know that by now. Your shark is jumping way too much shit.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, we used to get RL Polo polos for under $10 (seconds with no visible problems, overruns,etc.) at the factory near Chester or Gaffney SC. Loved to show them off to the "upscales" who'd paid more than five times the price ("but that can't be...it must be...but mine is REAL..etc.")

No more. The Carolinas textile industry is practically nonexistent, and those "lifelong" jobs are never coming back.

When some do gooder types remark that they exploited workers, I ask them if they think the loom tenders were somehow being prevented from going to medical school, or starting up software firms.

tintin said...

I lived in Charlotte, Huntersville, Chapel Hill, Fayetville and spent a lot of summers in Lincolnton, NC. I remember the tiny houses the textile workers lived in. I had friends who lived in houses with dirt floors and they had wax paper for glass in their windows and THEY looked down on textile families.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:17 again~
You did that because you had to. Now you can do it because you choose to. Too tough, tin man?

An industry abandoned its people? How about, an elite (or aspiring elite in your case) abandoning US manufacturers, placing greater value on the cache of imports than domestically made goods?

Oh, and NOBODY expects ME to pay $295 for a shirt made in Vietnam. You, maybe. Me, not so much.

tintin said...

Anon 11:17 Didn't have to. I volunteered. But I don't expect you to know the 1st thing about it Anon.

Im not aspiring to anything. At 52, I'm pretty happy right where I am. But I do go crazy for the UK. I'll admit that.

Sorry, my point was paying 20% more for a Brooks OCBD over an average OCBD made in China. The $295 shirt from Vietnam is for sale a block down Madison from Brooks. I wouldn't buy it either.

Anonymous said...

This is close enough for now.
Anon 12:01

And you are too kind to the likes of Anon 11:17

Paul said...

"Anon 12:01 - I sometimes think I could write a book about the nostalgia I have for experiences I was born too late for."

Tin - will you write the f'ing book please??? You can do it - and if you need ref material or assistance, ask your loyal fans to clear up any details you may have struggles with - they will gladly help you.

(I've been reading about The Satorialist - Scott Shuman - if he can do it - you can too - and should)

tintin said...

Anon 12:01 Thanks. Anon 11:17 isn't so bad.

tintin said...

Paul- Thank you. I appreciate your confidence in me. I sure don't have any.

Anonymous said...

Tin Tin~
I know plenty about it. Father, husband, his father, grandfather and great grandfather all volunteered. Mostly during war time. I suspect peace time was your preferred enlistment period.
~Anon 11:17

Anonymous said...

Re Anon. 13:13

The Carolina polos were sourced from two firms - Whisper Knits based near Pinehurst and Klear Knits based in Clover, SC. I think different branches of the same family owned each. Whisper Knits had perhaps 3 plants scattered in eastern NC. Klear Knits had plants in Florence, SC (near the airport, ADG), Statesville, NC, Rock Hill, SC and Clover. Each made cotton knit shirts for Polo, Brooks, the early Joe Abboud, Lands' End, etc. Their excess sometimes turned up at World Of Clothing in Gaffney. In the early '90s Klear Knits shipped a large quantity of T-Necks to LE without elasticized necks. LE emphasized its elasticized necks in the cat. and suffered torrential returns on the T-Necks, which were a popular item. I don't think KK ever recovered from that fiasco. Neither firm has existed for years.

There used to be two main cashmere/camel hair processors in the U.S.- Warren Of Stafford, CT (acquired over 20 years ago by Loro Piana) and Woonsocket Mfg. of Charlotte, NC. Woonsocket struggled for years as a sub. of Penn.'s Amicale. Within the past 5 years first Woonsocket, then Amicale disappeared. Y'all didn't buy enough domestic cashmere.

Scotland's knitwear industry ain't doin' much better.

tintin said...

Anon 11:17 That would make you my ex wife.

Anonymous said...

Your ex??? Not a chance. I was chronicling my husband's (NO EX) family's honorable tradition of Marine Corps service.
~ Anon 11:17

tintin said...

Anon 11:17 - I am third generation Army. My grandfather retired a SGM and served with the 77th Infantry during WWII. My father retired a LTC and served as a A Team captain with 5th SFG in Vietnam. I served 4years at Ft Bragg and never approached their service records. I was Airbore Infantry (11B2P) but was mainly a REMF with G-2 and G-3 in XVIII Abn Corps.

I have the highest respect for the Marine Corps and would never think to belittle your families service. I'd ask that you reciprocate. If you can't -- I'll save you from further embarassing yourself here.

The Blushing Hostess said...

Ah-hem. Risking the gun being pointed directly at me... when I worked for Donna, the margin goal was 50%, largely the fabrics selected and manufacturing all over NYC kept us from meeting that goal... she had a lot of NY pride then.

At Talbots, the goal was much higher. 70%, but we were a direct manufacturing retailer. I was a sourcing manager there, and the issue was not as straight forward across the board as it would seem. When I had product in domestic factories, which we ran on super-low margin to keep it there as long as the turn was fast - the prices were effected by all sorts of fun stuff. In order to cover, we would have to raise the retail (and DID I GET LETTERS about making sure the stuff stayed in the US), let me be very clear that the American consumer at that level would NOT TOLERATE that increase. Not even $10, but would write letter after letter telling me to keep it in the states. FYI - American labor (do not even get me started on unions in the garment biz - but if you want to point a finger on greed...) is not cheap. Neither is American overhead (can I show you my power bill? greed is in every corner). And the expertise and interest in the needle, not there.

Now, when I did cashmere at high end, there was more tolerence at a price level. But not limitless until i worked under an Italian label - which is an ABSOLUTE quality misnomer (another day).

Finally, New Balance, the "kings of American shoe and footwear manufacturing." I will put money on Jim Davis making himself available for this conversation... the man has nearly gone belly up three times to keep his four US factories alive. He can never get enough good hands to make all the product NB loyalists demand, but he gets up everyday and tries. He keeps these US factories in business still and I can promise you, his margins are PEANUTS. In comparison to Nike and Adidas, he is a martyr. And when we are pointing to greed - the cost of endorsements is in your margins folks - Tiger has a beautiful boat - look to Oregon for the guy who started that endorsement practice...

Yes, greed is a part of it, not strictly from the corporate offices as I hope is apparent. But I was hired to run product development divisions because - while I had all the other qual's - I could sew, knit, read a pattern, make a marker. If you don't mind my asking - how many American's do you know can do that still because I am needing a new tailor anyhow?

Revolution: Industrial, agricultural, intellectual - they all take us further and further from the work of our hands. Once I needed to place a hand knit order in the US and searched for MONTHS for a knitting factory, the last good ones being in LA. I sent it to a cottage industry village in China and a second one to same in Peru. Part of my heart went with the purchase order. Follow?

Anonymous said...

CNN had a brief report on the HBO special dealing with the garment district crisis. Unfortunately, I don't get HBO, but I did find CNN's synopsis quite interesting.

On another note, I think if folks are going to take gratuitous and below-the-belt swipes at others on this blog they should do so without hiding behind the "anonymous" label. It's really petty bullshit and quite cowardly.

Christopher said...

When I saw 33 posts on this topic I said "Good on yah!"

I wish people here in Canada were more interested in Canadian made products, seems the only things people strive to have domestic here are Maple Syrup and Beer.

Hope the protest tomorrow goes well, will have it in my mind all day.


tintin said...

anon 19:48- Assume you mean 18:13...Many thanks for the time you put into that comment. It's amazing history and fills in the visual memories I have of the textile industy of N.C. in the 60's. Again, I really appreciate it.

Blushing- No gun here. I'm just happy to see you. Thank you for your time as well. I'm the 1st to plead ignorant of a business I only sold for - - and briefly at that. Your perspective helps a lot in what has to be one of the more difficult ways to make a living. I know I don't appreciate what goes into a garment from idea to shelf.

But everything has changed in the last year. It's amazing to see the small manuf on line who have partnered with retailers to sell US made apparel. US consumers may not see the value but others do and are willing to pay for it. One of my favorite stores in NYC is Alden. I recently saw 4 or 5 Japanese customers go crazy in there. You can't help but feel a little pride.

I follow but everything, and I mean everything, is following the money today despite the fact that it always seeps to the bottom.

Anon 06:09- I don't have HBO either but am hoping it will go DVD. Comments are always a mixed bag here. But I'd say the good ones more than make up for the negative.

Christopher - Hell, I don't think people in the US even care who makes our beer anymore.

initials CG said...


You can't imagine what it is like to live in a place where trains can't run on time... it sucks.

It's your money, man... I think if some mom and pop shops open up some other place and play it fair enough to support their families they'd get a pretty good recession proof client list going...just my humble op.

initials CG said...

Beer, maple syrup and some Canadian ass are really worth payin' for...

Paul said...

Anyone ready for cocktails???

Pierrepont Hicks said...

Wow thank you for posting this. I wish I was in NY today to be there. I manufacture my ties where Thom Browne does, even though folks pused us to do it cheaper in China. SCREW that I said. I know in the long run it will pay off for us smaller independent designers. It's important to buy American. Thanks again for this post.

tintin said...

cg- If a retailer can show me a great product that's not overproduced with some quality all while making the buying experince enjoyable - - where do I sign up? Hell, I just did at Jay Kos. And I'm with you on the Canuck trifecta.

Paul- Man, they didn't even have cheap wine. What's a rally without a social hour?

Pierrepont- I knew there were folks like you around. Would love to look at your stuff but can't find it on your web site...Thanks for stopping by.

tintin said...

cg- If a retailer can show me a great product that's not overproduced with some quality all while making the buying experince enjoyable - - where do I sign up? Hell, I just did at Jay Kos. And I'm with you on the Canuck trifecta.

Paul- Man, they didn't even have cheap wine. What's a rally without a social hour?

Pierrepont- I knew there were folks like you around. Would love to look at your stuff but can't find it on your web site...Thanks for stopping by.

P. Hicks said...

pics up on site + ties for sale in 2 weeks thx tintin i'll email u a lookbook

Easy and Elegant Life said...

Global economy... mostly global, not so local anymore.

Saw a Chinese made suit the other day, but they wouldn't let me at the seam ripper to get inside it to see what was what... .

My tailor may use imported fabrics, but the suit's made here.

tintin said...

P. - Can't wait to see your stuff.

E&E- The global economy is what's so great about made in the US. It has become, excluding the hipster element, a mark of quality that means a lot more than it meant 20 years ago. And mark my words - - As the 'global' economy becomes more third world, the US made shoes, ties, and apparel will increase in demand. Whether I'll be able to afford it is another story.

baus said...

I go way out of my way to buy American and have for years, but truth is it doesn't make sense to manufacture in NYC. There are places like Buffalo and Erie, PA where land and labor is cheap. Trying to force the industry into the city through regulation won't work long term. With the falling dollar and increasing interest in US products over seas I think there is new opportunity for US manufacturing, but it isn't in NYC.


tintin said...

baus- Thank you for your comment. I hope there will always be something made in this city. It's probably gonna be the 'right $ kind' of something. There's still tailors in London as well as shoe makers and London rents make Manahattan look like Hooterville so whatever is made here is gonna be outta my league. You also have Staten Island and Queens which qualify for NYC.

I'm sure as hell not gonna solve anything but it's good to see the concern. And it's good to know there's a passion out there for apparel still made in this country. I just wish I knew how to sew.